Whether it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, or even Basil and Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective, everyone has their own definitive ‘Holmes and Watson’. And I can safely say that, after watching Blackeyed Theatre’s interpretation of the dynamic duo, theirs has become mine.
After his first appearance in 1886, Holmes quickly became a household name. 56 short stories, four novels and countless film, radio and television adaptations later, Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic consulting detective has become one of the most successful fictional characters ever – so popular that he was resurrected from the dead by public demand!
So who better to tackle one of Holmes’ thornier adventures than Blackeyed Theatre, the Berkshire-based company behind innovative reimaginings of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde – not to mention previous Holmes adventures? Writer Nick Lane (who also directs) navigates smoothly through The Valley of Fear – no mean feat, as it spans twenty years, two cases, and both sides of the Atlantic. Vicky Spearing’s set – a fragmenting skeleton of exposed beams and William Morris-wallpaper, cleverly shifts from fin-de-siècle study to dusty saloon with the help of Oliver Welsh’s clever lighting and Naomi Gibbs’ convincing costumes.
Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, having first collaborated on Blackeyed’s The Sign of Four in 2018 (For more insight on how Luke and Joseph developed their fantastic rapport, check out our interview here). And what a dynamic duo! Barton is a zesty and mercurial Holmes who positively dances across the stage (at times, quite literally – in one of the show’s most delightful moments, he punctuates his re-enactment of the scuffle by pitching himself across the boards. It’s a ten from me, Luke!) He brings a heroic quality to the role without sanding off Holmes’ rough edges, and his declaration to Watson – “There is no me without you” – is a moment of genuine poignancy.
And it rings true, because Joseph Derrington as Watson really is the perfect counter to Holmes: as steadfast and warm as Holmes is volatile and brash. Watson isn’t a slapstick sidekick here: he’s a partner in (almost) every meaning of the term (and Derrington’s own medical background lends a real authenticity to the good Doctor). Derrington is effortlessly affable as Holmes’ chronicler and companion, and their camaraderie feels authentic and lived-in; there’s a cosiness to the cattiness that reveals genuine affection between them. If, as the characters say, this is their final adventure, then they go out on a high – but I do hope we get to see them together one last time. I dare you to find a better Holmes and Watson after seeing this show.
Meanwhile, Alice Osmanski, Blake Kubena and Gavin Molloy, round out this super-skilled ensemble. Their versatility truly knows no bounds, with Osmanski especially impressive as everyone from a hard-of-hearing housekeeper to a sharp-shootin’ Pinkerton.
Kubena, who thrilled and chilled the New Theatre as the titular Jekyll and Hyde last year, continues to be a captivating stage presence, while Gavin Molloy brings genuine menace as coal-field crime boss McGinty and as Holmes’ most formidable foe (if you know, you know): their confrontation in an art gallery, while brief, is one of the most intense moments of theatre I have yet to experience.
The show has everything you could want from a Sherlock Holmes adventure: packed with twists and turns, it brings the audience in on solving the mystery right along with the characters and keeps you guessing right until the final problem. Whether you’re a die-hard Sherlockian or an amateur sleuth, this is the show for you. Sherlock comes Holmes to roost in Cardiff this week in the last stop of its acclaimed UK Tour, and with only four performances left, it’s an absolute must-see. A whip-smart script and a supremely talented cast make this an adventure for the ages – the game is well and truly afoot!
Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is performing in Cardiff from Wednesday 24 – Friday 26 May 2023. There are only four performances remaining so make sure to reserve your spot: you can find more information and how to book tickets here.